CSC: WELS Topical Q&A: Sacrament of Holy Baptism: Salvation: Sacrament of Holy Baptism - Salvation (03)
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Q:I was recently given a pamphlet by a relative who is a member of a local independent Bible church, who was raised, baptized and confirmed WELS and later left our church and our synod, entitled "Baptismal Regeneration: The Great Pagan Idol." The pamphlet is subtitled "An error that has damned millions of souls." I've skimmed over sections of the seven chapter pamphlet and it appears to have been written by a former Lutheran pastor, V.L. Peterson, and originally copywritten in 1947. The pamphlet is now available through Midwest Hebrew Ministries in St. Paul, MN.

The basic thrust of the pamphlet seems to come from the author's belief that our current practice of baptism and our faith in it's blessings, namely, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, was originally derived from pagan rituals practiced in Babylon. Further examination indicates the author believes that Protestant churches, including Lutherans (who are at times singled out in the pamplet), have turned baptism into an idol. He writes, "If baptism has power to save, then Jesus cannot be the only way to heaven."

Are we as a synod, either uniformally or individually as pastors, familiar with this pamphlet and the content it contains? And how should I respond to this pamphlet? It would seem the most complete answer would be to provide this relative with a copy of "Baptism" from the People's Bible series. I have encountered and dealt with false teaching concerning baptism and its practice in the past, but I have never heard of, nor read, such accusations as this pamphlet presents.

A:The book in question is in the collection of the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Library. It is a well worn copy, and thus we may assume it has been read by many men who became pastors in WELS. In general its contents and arguments against baptismal regeneration and infant baptism, and for the need to immerse, are those put forth in Baptists' literature.

The book claims that belief in baptismal regeneration comes from pagan, particularly Babylonian, sources. It does not prove this and cannot, because belief in baptismal regeneration comes from the Bible.

To say, as this book does, that if Baptism saves or gives the new birth then salvation is not from Christ and through faith, is like saying, "If the gospel saves, then salvation is not by Christ and through faith."

This book, and Baptists generally, keep insisting that "water cannot do these great things," as though Lutherans and others believed that water can do them. Luther answered that (on the basis of Scripture) 472 years ago: "It is not the water that does them, indeed, but the Word of God which is in and with the water, and faith which trusts this Word of God in the water...."

The People's Bible Teaching on Baptism, available from Northwestern Publishing House, is a good reference for you to read. You might also want to look at what is said of John 3:5 in the People's Bible commentary. Rev. Peterson uses a fantastic explanation of what "water" means in that verse in order to "prove" what Jesus could not be speaking of Baptism. Look at Romans 6:3-5; Ephesians 5:26; and Titus 3:5 in the People's Bible.

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